Home > News > Will the Oil Spill Kick Obama’s Ass?
158 views 3 min 0 Comment

Will the Oil Spill Kick Obama’s Ass?

- June 8, 2010

I use the phrase because, apparently, Obama will be talking about kicking some ass on tomorrow’s Today Show (per Marc Ambinder).

I don’t think that the oil spill will ultimately affect either Obama’s popularity or the midterm elections. Consider two facts as a preamble:

* Katrina didn’t really affect Bush’s approval all that much, if at all. See this piece by Alan Abramowitz.

* Obama’s approval numbers have actually notched up in the past couple weeks when you do an apples-to-apples comparison of the polls. The differences are within the margin of error, so take “notched up” with all appropriate salt. But these numbers certainly don’t suggest that the oil spill is taking some toll. See this piece by Michael McDonald.

Now here’s the crux. BP capped the well. It’s capturing some, perhaps most, oil. It’s not capturing all the oil. Assume that this partial solution doesn’t prove faulty, leaving us at square one. That may be a big assumption, but stay with me. And also factor in the possibility that BP might actually be able to staunch the flow further, with relief wells or whatever.

If that assumption is true, and especially if the possibility of further improvement comes to pass, this will remove the drama from the media narrative. We won’t have the ongoing saga of tried-and-failed solutions (the top kill, etc.). Politicians will stop talking about it. Obama won’t have to cuss in front of Matt Lauer.

But won’t we have a big huge environmental mess? Isn’t that news? Yes, it is. But not for long. How many pictures of oily pelicans can you show on the nightly news? Not that many. We are once again in the world of the issue-attention cycle, which I discussed before with regard to natural disasters. I don’t think this man-made disaster will prove any different. The media will lose interest because the long hard slog of cleaning up Gulf beaches isn’t as newsworthy as an unstoppable gushing well. The ultimate effects of the oil on ecosystems and industry will take time to manifest themselves.

And so the public’s attention will turn elsewhere, and the spill will fail to have much impact on the fortunes of Obama or other incumbent leaders.